L.J. Williamson

Blog Entry
Law Enforcement and Burning Man: Before And After PDF Print E-mail

The Burning Blog at BurningMan.com just went through an interesting editing process over the last 24 hours. Blogger John Curley's August 21, 2013 post, which included strong language about what he saw as heavy-handed law enforcement tactics onsite at Burning Man's pre-event build, was temporarily removed from the site. 


Curley's article disappeared for most of the following day, with a 404 error in its place. Later in the day, a re-edited version of the post appeared on the site. 


Although an editor's note says that the changes were made with Curley's permission, Curley's name was removed from the byline and replaced with "Burning Man." 


Linguistic changes to the article included the phrase "screw you for life" being replaced with "really make a mess" and the phrase "shaken up and intimidated" replaced with the word "unhappy."  A direct quote from Event Operations Director Charlie Dolman about one officer in particular was removed and replaced with a more general statement about law enforcement, and the sentence "Dolman encouraged anyone who was issued a questionable citation to report it" was redacted.  


Also added was a warning against "trusting Internet hype."  


For purposes of comparison, I've integrated the original version of Curley's article with the newly edited version. Additions are in red, cuts are in strikethrough.   


Links: the current version of the article is here. A cache of the original version is here.  


If This Doesn’t Scare You, Maybe It Should 

Law Enforcement's Comin' To Town 


 [Editor's Note: John Curley is one of our best and most respected bloggers, however his original story didn't include important details that give a more complete perspective of law enforcement onsite. The Burning Blog editorial staff will always reserve the right to expand a story to provide a deeper understanding. We have made these edits with John's permission.] 

 [Photo redacted; caption: A police dog was used to search "The Gypsy Queen" on the way in to Black Rock City]

The Man is not the only Man who arrived on the playa yesterday.

The other arrival we’re talking about that other Man, the police, aka law enforcement officials, who have blown into town and made their presence felt in a very big way clear.


At least two DPW workers people onsite for setup were cited for peeing on the playa (which carries a $275 fine, plus the threat that the offense could, at the officer’s discretion, be elevated into an indecent exposure rap, which would make you a sex offender and screw you for life really make a mess of your record). Burning Man supports the event being all ages, and it’s important we keep that in mind even pre-event when it might look like there’s no one there to see you pee.


There were also citations for speeding, although the incidents reveal there seemed to be a confusion about the current speed limit in Black Rock City. Burning Man staff (via the event stipulations) have agreed on a pre-event limit of  has set the limit at 10 mph, but it's possible the citations people were given being pulled over for exceeding 5 mph. In addition, art cars were being cited for not having valid current registrations. Organizers are working with BLM to clarify the enforceable speed limit, as pre-event rules are different from “show time”. There are also accommodations made for event vehicles and their registration status off-road. All incidents are being reviewed in Burning Man’s daily meetings with law enforcement officials.


“There are new officers here this year,” event operations director Charlie Dolman told crews at the DPW morning meeting on Wednesday. One of the citations that was issued yesterday “was by somebody literally in his first half-hour on the playa.” There are new officers on site each year, and they have the jurisdiction to enforce the laws as they see fit. However, the organization works with the BLM year-round to give them a sense of our culture, and how things work during setup and then during the event itself.


Charlie Dolman, Burning Man’s new Director of Event Operations reminded the DPW at a recent morning meeting that the organization is set up to “have your back”, but that doesn’t mean if you’re actually in violation of the law. Anyone who is issued a citation they are uncertain about is encouraged to bring it and your questions to the organization or the BLM sub-station in Center Camp.  Dolman encouraged anyone who was issued a questionable citation to report it. The Burning Man staff has worked works throughout the year to create a collaborative working relationship with law enforcement, and to help with that, participants are encouraged to report both positive and negative interactions with law enforcement by filling out a Law Enforcement Feedback Form at Ranger HQ.


But it’s clear that law enforcement wants you to know that they are here, and they are enforcing laws strictly. Drivers are being told to have a driver’s license on them at all times (this shouldn’t come as any surprise). Though there haven’t been any DUI citations it’s obvious those will happen if there’s anyone driving under the influence. So, the message is, handle yourself well, but be prepared to be pulled over for infractions that draw attention. 


Midmorning on Wednesday, As evidence of what happens when your infraction is more than obvious, BLM pulled over the “Gypsy Queen” art car mutant vehicle was pulled over for an obstructed license plate as she entered Black Rock City. , and eventually the owners were issued a warning for an expired registration. The car had been stored at the Burning Man work ranch, about ten miles away from the city, but it had made it safely through the city gates. But once it got here, the trouble began.


[Photo redacted; photo caption: Law enforcement arrived in a very visible way


Three BLM vehicles, including A K-9 unit was used to sniff the , surrounded the art car and an accompanying van. Officers had their dog sniff the fan, and the when the dog got a “hit,” officers searched both vehicles.


However, all ended well. “They got a hit on a drill handle,” the owner said. “I told them that it was used by a bunch of people.” Although he was very obviously shaken up and intimidated by the stop and unhappy with the search, he said that the officers had been “cool.” And, there was nothing out of alignment except the obstructed plate.


But it’s clear that law enforcement wants you to know that they are here, and they are using whatever means necessary to effect a search of your vehicles and camps. Drivers are being told to have a driver’s license on them at all times.

Motorcycle drivers were also being cited, even though the flat ban on two-wheeled vehicles doesn’t take place until the event begins.

The officers “haven’t made a good impression,” Dolman said. “But we can do better than them.”

So, the message is, handle yourself well, but be prepared to be pulled over for even minor infractions. Be safe out there.


The Burning Man organization works year round to maintain a strong working relationship with law enforcement. They have a right to be here and there is no way we could do the event without them and the important work they do to maintain order and enforce state, local and federal laws. There aren’t any laws that can be ignored. 


 So, do your part and obey the law. Each year we hear stories of how someone was pulled over and the ensuing painful experience. Most of the time the initial infraction was a tail light out, seat belt not used, speeding, riding on the top of a vehicle.  Be safe, use common sense and follow the rules of the road — just as you would in any other city.


And, if your experience needs to be reviewed by the organization for our daily meetings with BLM please come to the Ranger station in Center Camp and fill out a LE Feedback form. We can’t advocate for your situation — nor can we explain to you what laws you broke and why it’s enforceable — if we don’t have a conversation with you about it. Trusting internet hype that there’s a strong police presence, and not being cognizant of all the variables is irresponsible. Be Self Reliant.




[Note: Original photos have been removed as stipulation and intellectual property issues are being resolved.]

[Photo redacted] 


The big blow and rain on Tuesday night doesn’t seemed to have caused much damage. The Man was still standing, and as Joe the Builder said, “If he’s still standing, it’s all good.”

The shade at the Center Camp Cafe was intact, although a few zip ties attaching it to cables were ripped. There Cafe was busy with decor crews spreading out rugs, and DPW crews were building cafe counters.

The Temple crew lost a couple of shade structures, but they will be moving off the work site relatively soon, and the damage didn’t have much impact. The Temple itself was secure.

Other than numerous PortaPotties being knocked over, Black Rock City escaped pretty much unscathed. Perhaps the most symbolically appropriate development was that the shade roof over the DPW bar iwas blown off. So yes, there is now a topless bar in the Ghetto.

There were more clouds in the sky on Wednesday, and the forecast once again called for isolated thunderstorms., but the cloud cover was keeping temperatures down, and everyone was thankful for that.

[Photos redacted; Captions:

King Pole inspected the Cafe for signs of damage

Work continued at Mike Garlington’s “Photo Chapel”

Work continued at the Man base

There were still lots of shade structures to put up

There is now a topless bar in the Ghetto

Spoono’s art car spot carries a message for authorities ]